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Ime Udoka deserves another NBA coaching chance and he found the perfect fit with Houston Rockets

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The Houston Rockets, who have been bottom three in standings for the last three years, pulled one foot out of poverty status when they hired Ime Udoka to be their new coach.

Udoka was suspended indefinitely in September by the Boston Celtics after leading them to the NBA Finals in his first year as head coach. The reasons why were always murky and confusing. He was officially suspended for unspecified “violations of team policies.” According to reports, Udoka had a relationship with a female subordinate.

Udoka, 45, had been in a long-term relationship with actress Nia Long, who starred in a number of other movies and TV shows. The two broke up in December.

Before the season started, the Celtics announced Joe Mazzula, a rookie coach, was hired as the interim before being signed long-term during the season. This left the door open for Udoka to sign elsewhere.

The Brooklyn Nets reportedly considered hiring Udoka after firing Steve Nash early in the season but decided against it after backlash to the move grew. Now the Rockets have hired one of the best basketball minds and motivators in the game as their head coach. No team needed the strengths Udoka brings to the head coaching job more than the Rockets. Under former head coach Stephen Silas, the Rockets rebelled against leadership and were constantly involved in internal strife.

Udoka will bring a commanding presence to the Rockets, the fourth-youngest team in the NBA which finished 20-62 this season. He established a pecking order and defined clear roles for the Celtics last year, which was a major factor in them surpassing expectations during a run to the Finals.

jalen green
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The Rockets have two top-three draft picks in Jalen Green (second overall in 2020) and Jabari Smith Jr. (third overall in 2021). They also have skilled mid to late first-round picks in center Alperen Şengün, who has star potential, forward Tari Eason, and former second-round pick Kenyon Martin Jr., who will be a free agent this summer. They also have Kevin Porter Jr., who was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers in January 2021.

Houston Rockets and veteran leadership

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Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone needs to go out and get Udoka veterans to balance out the locker room and relay his message to the younger players outside of practices. Veterans have never been more critical, and the Rockets finished the season with only Boban Marjanović as their lone vet.

As the league skews younger, veterans have become less of a priority for teams looking to build up their draft capital and young core constantly. The Rockets desperately need more. Eric Gordon was their longest-tenured vet, but even he said at multiple intervals this season the team chemistry was in shambles, inferring that Silas had lost the locker room and guys weren’t trying. Players like Al Horford were crucial to Udoka’s message resonating with the young Celtics squad last season. Targeting those types of guys this off-season should be the front office’s top priority to set up Udoka for success.

At this time, there’s another wrinkle to this hiring that is pure speculation. Free agent-to-be James Harden is reportedly intrigued by the Rockets’ young core and would consider returning to the team where he spent most of his career. Udoka would give him a coach who is respected by players and has proven to be able to get to the Finals. Harden could look to finish off his Hall of Fame career with the Rockets.

Hiring Udoka would be a great selling point if the Rockets have interest in Harden, especially if the Philadelphia 76ers fail to advance past the second round of the playoffs this season. Harden has matured since his days of partying at Houston’s strip clubs. He could be one of the veterans the team needs to grow and develop. Like Udoka, he deserves a second chance at rewriting his legacy. He and Udoka would be a helluva redemption story in H Town.

Udoka’s hiring is a crucial step for this young Rockets team to buy into his leadership abilities. His ability to raise the Rockets out of the bottom of the standings and return them to relevance depends on his honesty.

Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo

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